22 August 2008

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) today condemned the recent kidnapping of a group of Afghan deminers and called for the immediate release of the six men still being held captive.

Thirteen men working for the Afghan demining organization MDC (an ICBL member) – including 11 deminers and two drivers – were abducted by unidentified forces on 19 August in Gardez province. Seven of them have been since released, but the fate of the remaining six remains unknown.

“Deminers put their lives at risk every day to ensure the safety of their communities. Attacking them is a cowardly act and an assault on the entire civilian population,” said Sylvie Brigot, Executive Director of the ICBL, calling on all armed actors to halt attacks on demining personnel and to safeguard their life-saving work. The ICBL also called for the Afghan government to take urgent measures to ensure the security of deminers and to identify and bring to justice those responsible. “Mine clearance is crucial to allow reconstruction, economic recovery, and build lasting peace. Deminers and their work should be valued and protected,” said Firoz Ali Alizada, ICBL Treaty Implementation Officer, stressing that attacks on deminers could seriously endanger the progress of vital clearance operations.

Unfortunately, attacks on deminers are not infrequent in Afghanistan. In March 2008, in two separate incidents, seven mine clearance personnel were killed and another seven injured. In 2007, at least six deminers were killed and a further 17 were kidnapped before being released. One of the most severely mine-affected countries, Afghanistan has the world’s largest demining programme, employing some 8,000 national staff.

For more information on the landmine situation in Afghanistan, which joined the Mine Ban Treaty in 2003, please see the Landmine Monitor Report at http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/afghanistan